For anyone who’s interested in “David vs. Goliath” clashes from this current Bundesliga season, nothing came close to the debutant SC Paderborn’s (SCP) trip to the Allianz Arena on Matchday five. Pre-season predictions marked out the newly-promoted side as pushovers each matchday, while it wouldn’t have been easy to find someone who thought that Bayern’s utter dominance would be halted this season. Of course, right now the Bavarians are running solo in in first place for the third year running when the league entered the extended winter break, but for a change it was the David (Paderborn) who were leading the pack when the two sides met in late September.
Bright start to the new chapter
Sitting in first place after the end of the matchday four, wouldn’t have been a reality, if it wasn’t for Moritz Stoppelkamp’s record breaking strike from 83 meters against Hannover, as this golazo proved to be enough in edging out the other three clubs with eight points – including Bayern – on goal difference. It was fitting that this wonder goal cementing the club’s highly unlikely journey to very top of the table, when everybody expected them dwelling on the rock bottom for the whole season.
Taking a step backwards, SCP’s first top-flight fixtures saw them entertain Mainz, who started their post-Tuchel era with successive exits from both local and European cup tournaments. Only a late penalty-kick denied the hosts their first Bundesliga win, as skipper Hünemeier made an unnecessary challenge in the box after putting Paderborn in front a little earlier. But there was no denying of three points the week after, as Paderborn stunned the ever-present Hamburg with a comprehensive 0-3 scoreline away from home.
It’s one thing to start the season on high note for the SC minnows, but what has come to define their season the most is the way SCP handled the situation once “the inevitable” happens. The “inevitable” began when Pep Guardiola’s troops found it extremely easy to stroll past SCP en route to the Bundesliga summit, and, as SCP officials hinted before the Bayern showdown, they have been fighting for survival ever since. They won two of their first four Bundesliga matches, but have only won another two times in the next thirteen matches.
Despite a brave performance, Paderborn encountered their first home defeat right after the Bayern loss, when Borussia Mönchengladbach relied on early goals at the Benteler Arena. But SCP’s worst defeat came in the form of a totally lackluster display in drubbing by Werder Bremen, when André Breitenreiter’s side struggled to produce a single attacking move well beyond the hour mark.
Although finishing the first half of the season 10th in the standings sounds, Paderborn are only two points adrift of the relegation/promotion place, as there is little to separate almost half of the sides in the league this time around.
Before this season, the Bundesliga had witnessed two small clubs struggling to stay afloat after surprise promotions, eventually return back to the second-tier, as Greuther Fürth and Eintracht Braunschweig failed to satisfy their adoring fans during the last two seasons respectively.
With only a capacity of 15,300, Paderborn’s ground draws even a smaller crowd compared with these two clubs; however, SCP’s home form is something to put their faith on, if they should avoid relegation. Stunning displays to defeat Eintracht Frankfurt and Hertha Berlin by the scorelines of 3-1 serve as a good examples, but their unlikely comeback after going two nil down in the halftime break against Borussia Dortmund stands out from the rest, albeit the Yellow-Blacks are having an uncharasteristically rough patch this season.
Including the Dortmund game, Paderborn managed to share the spoils after going behind in three of their last six league matches, resulting in them avoiding the relegation zone for the time being. However, they are without a win in seven matches, “bettered” only by Mainz, but with seven draws to their name. There is no place for giving up too easy at Paderborn.
Although he might not be applauded for his philosophy like his counterpart at Bayer Leverkusen (Roger Schmidt), André Breitenreiter is the man who took Paderborn to the promise land – the Bundesliga. Schmidt spent two seasons at Paderborn before joining Red Bull Salzburg, where his pressing football was first noticed. However, Schmidt’s old club had to wait until Breitenreiter’s arrival to achieve promotion to the Bundesliga, after spending eight of the last nine seasons in the Bundesliga 2. Though the difference is visible in the quality of the sides, Breitenreiter’s relegation candidates earned a hard-fought point at Roger Schmidt’s European hopefuls Leverkusen in October, playing the last twenty minutes with ten men.
Thus far, they have the least top-flight football experience at their disposal in the league, but with players like Elias Kachunga stepping up their game, they are fighting to stay in the league. For Kachunga, it was almost impossible to shine at ‘Gladbach, where he saw limited playing opportunities. Now, the German-U21 striker is leading the line for the promoted side, and has topped the club’s scoring chart with five goals, including the historic one when he notched at home during Paderborn’s first inaugural against Mainz.
Moritz Stoppelkamp had a slightly better firsthand experience in the Bundesliga thanks to his stint at Hannover, and the winger has become a regular fixture at SCP since his summer arrival from 1860 München with the highlight of his season being the long-range strike against his old employers.
Mahir Sağlık finished joint top scorer in Bundelsiga 2. last season, but apart from his strike to level the scores just after coming off as a sub against his old employers Dortmund, he is struggling with injury and hasn’t made the same impact this season.
With loan signings from Dortmund and Wolfsburg, Marvin Ducksch and Stefan Kutschke, in their ranks, Paderborn also have other options to go with upfront. Free-kick specialist Alban Meha also faced a lengthy layoff, but has shown good signs since coming back from injury.
It’s not every day that we witness Lukas Kruse pulled out a man-of-the-match performance like in their draw at Wolfsburg, where he capped his excellent night with a penalty-kick save, but you’d expect it would be a huge confidence boost for the goalkeeper over the course of the remaining season.
It would be a crime to not mention the skipper Uwe Hünemeier’s name when one goes over the influential players in the side, as the ex-Dortmund defender enjoyed a relatively spectacular season. Other notable players include Süleyman Koc, who made the most of his second chance after spending years in prison, and the no-nonsense Marvin Bakalorz, another player who’s formerly of Borussia Dortmund.
Fighting the drop
Despite their current league position, one can’t expect Borussia Dortmund to be relegated, and with “big” clubs like Stuttgart, Hertha Berlin, Werder Bremen, and Hamburg also fighting the drop, many still peg Paderborn as one of the favorites for relegation.
As it stands, however, predicting the Bundesliga’s final standings is murky, except that Bayern will clinch their third title in a row. Although they were top of the Bundesliga table four weeks into the Hinrunde campaign, there is no secret that anything but relegation would sound like a trophy by itself for Paderborn.
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